The Innovative Leader of Premium Aluminum Packaging

Exal
Written by Jen Hocken

For the past 25 years, Exal Corporation has manufactured premium aluminum packaging for consumer packaged goods companies. Products produced by Exal include impact extruded aluminum aerosol containers for personal care, home care, and pharmaceuticals, ranging from hairspray, deodorant, and sun screen to air freshener and saline solution. In addition, Exal is considered an innovator for the aluminum beverage bottle and manufactures an assortment of premium beverage bottles for beer, wine, and energy drink producers.
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Exal was founded by an entrepreneur in Youngstown, Ohio in 1993. The company has grown from its humble beginnings as a small startup to the leader in premium aluminum packaging with five facilities across North and South America, with operations in the United States, Argentina and Brazil.

In Argentina, Exal is vertically integrated, producing aluminum slugs at its factory in Puerto Madryn, Argentina which are converted into bottles at plants in Argentina and Brazil. Exal also has a filling plant in Argentina that can formulate products and fill the aluminum bottles produced by Exal in aerosol and liquid formats. These filled packages include shaving cream, shampoo, and other personal and home care products.

The company now employs nearly one thousand employees, and every location has a similar work atmosphere. Michael Mapes, Exal CEO, attributes the success of the company to common values. “I think it starts with the culture in Youngstown, created by the hardworking people driving the steel industry’s growth in the Mahoning Valley. It is rooted in a strong work ethic, a focus on doing things right, and the common values of integrity, teamwork, accountability, ingenuity, and excellence. When the steel industry left this area, the values remained, and are now part of Exal. The efforts of the team in Youngstown enabled Exal to expand to Argentina and Brazil where the teams share these common company values.”

Exal is known for innovation in the aluminum packaging industry. It led the innovation of the aluminum beverage bottles for Bud Light, Budweiser, and Coca-Cola at its headquarters in Youngstown. Since that time, the Exal team has made numerous custom bottles for the aerosol and beverage markets that are used daily by millions of consumers.

Lately, Exal has been focused on repositioning the beverage portion of its business to focus on segments that value premium aluminum packaging. This challenge has turned into a tremendous opportunity for the company and is helping it to gain entry in a variety of new beverage categories that it did not previously serve.

“Our vision overall is to be the leader in premium aluminum packaging. We focus all of our energy on that goal because ultimately, we want to make sure that the packaging we provide is the most sustainable and effective packaging to better everyday lives. We produce products that stand out on the shelf and provide a distinctive customer experience,” says Michael. “Exal partners with customers to build their brands.”

Exal has also partnered with beverage and aerosol customers to convert to aluminum bottles. The unique graphics and shaping capabilities combined in an infinitely recyclable package has helped many aerosol and beverage companies differentiate their products on the shelf, build their brands, and most importantly drive sales.

The company believes that its packaging is not only the best option for the environment and to promote a company’s brand, but also that consumers who use its products will have a completely unique experience due to the packaging, Michael said. “If you were to drink a beer in aluminum bottle versus an aluminum can or glass bottle, the drinking experience is much different in a positive, engaging and fulfilling way. That is what we believe and what the consumer data tells us.”

Exal has taken this concept to other beverage companies to target specific consumer occasions that value a different type of drinking experience, such as outdoor events and concerts where there is high value to a resealable drink in an aluminum package. Glass bottles are often prohibited at events where they can break and become dangerous.

The aluminum bottle is becoming more and more popular with beer and wine companies. Wine companies are adding smaller, resealable aluminum containers to the market for outdoor events and other occasions, when it is inconvenient to hold a wine glass. The new product is about convenience, sustainability and differentiation. Consumers genuinely care more about the environment these days, and they like to use a unique product that stands out and is fashionable.

The company has recently been recognized for its numerous achievements at the 2017 Canmaker Summit in Glasgow. Scotland. Exal won two awards for its recent beverage products, taking first and second place in the bottles category, the Gold award for its impact-extruded, monobloc aluminum resealable bottle for Proud Source Water and the Silver award for its uniquely designed impact-extruded resealable aluminum bottle for UPTIME Energy.

“If we get all of our employees to really understand the importance of being able to touch the everyday lives of consumers with the products that we make, then it gets everyone engaged to make high-quality products and come up with solutions that enhance the consumer experience,” says Michael.

Michael believes he has seen tremendous progress in the company since he became CEO in January 2016. There has been significant improvement of employee engagement levels and in safety performance. Exal’s recordable incident rate went from 5.3 in 2015 to 1.9 in 2017, a sixty-three percent reduction.

Exal also improved its quality by over seventy percent in that same time frame. “In terms of parts-per-million, we were already at industry-leading levels in 2015, but we have reduced our defect rate by another seventy-two percent over the last twenty-four months. It reinforces what we are already doing to make the best quality products and to keep our employees safe and engaged,” says Michael.

The company is continuing to grow in all three of its locations. It expects to experience high single-digit to low double-digit growth this year. In Brazil, there are plans to double capacity, and Exal is making investments in Argentina to increase the capacity of its slug making facility. In the United States, Exal has invested in to further advanced shaping capabilities – particularly to serve the beverage industry – that will be utilized this year. Exal is positioned incredibly well to serve its customers effectively and follow the consumer trends towards premium aluminum packaging.

Exal is a leader amongst its competition because of its dedicated team and high-quality aluminum containers. “We are absolutely at the forefront of innovation by a long shot. Our competition just simply isn’t doing it,” says Michael, noting the company’s “deep history of innovation.”

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